MBA Programs Must Deliver Grads Ready for Global Careers or Lose Out to Competition

Originally appeared on Huffington Post on Feb. 15.

Although business schools aspire to deliver global MBAs to students, it seems the vast majority are falling short in actual achievement.

The Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) released a report last week titled “The Globalization of Managements Education: Changing International Structures, Adaptive Strategies, and the Impact on Institutions.”   The report suggests that business schools need to make more significant and sustained efforts across the curriculum to help students understand the challenges of conducting business in different cultures and countries.

Globalization has changed most businesses dramatically over the past 10 years. Companies recognize that their best chances for success lie with a steady stream of new talent with a diverse mix of skills, perspectives and experiences.  However, are business schools able to transform their approach and truly offer a global MBA? Are American MBA programs capable of and nimble enough to change?

Seventy-one percent of 71% of MBA programs offer or plan to offer global programs.  Many are incorporating an international component and adding “global” to their MBA programs.  But if they are going to produce outstanding global managers who are prepared to succeed in the global marketplace, these programs must be much more than incorporating study abroad or international cases into the curriculum.  They must actively adapt the American business school curricula to a global model. That’s a tall order for most universities – and one that will require a curricula overhaul.

According to Carleen Kerttula, executive director of the MBA Roundtable, 90 percent of its members said that cultivating a global mindset is a strategic priority.

“Our members know they need it, and their Executive MBA programs seem to be the most innovative as they leverage international partnerships, infuse curriculum with international cases and faculty and have greater access to visiting business leaders,” Kerttula said. “Full-time MBA programs are starting to adopt this model and it’s a great start.”

MBA program administrators should step back and do what makes most sense for their students, faculty expertise and resources. For instance, Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business decided to build its own campuses in key spots around the world and will fly over its own professors to preserve quality. The school is building campuses in New Delhi and Kunshan, China, and has campuses in St. Petersburg, Russia and London.

Many MBA programs have incorporated student-led organizations to affect change and interestingly — especially to me as the author of a book on women working abroad — the popular “women in business conferences” have increasingly focused on global issues.  I’ve spoken at many of these conferences over the past few years, most recently at NYU Stern Women in Business Conference last week with its theme being “Women of the World, Uniting Across Borders”.  The panel I moderated was made up of international business women, and we spent more than an hour talking with a room filled with interested Stern grads about the need to embrace global business and work hard at landing an assignment overseas for both short- and long-term career benefits.

U.S. schools need to offer global MBAs because companies want globally-minded graduates.  But U.S. schools lag behind other international schools across Europe and leading schools in Asia mainly because of the multicultural mix of diverse students from around the world.

Former U.S. Ambassador Curtis S. Chin, who served as the U.S. Executive Director of the Asian Development Bank, notes that integration of international students can enhance an overall global atmosphere within an MBA program.  A graduate of Yale’s School of Management and author of a leading book in Japan on U.S. management schools, he has spent years working in Asia for multinational companies. “As part of curriculum, universities must encourage, if not creatively force, interaction among all students to enhance cross-cultural appreciation,” he said.  “Learning from other students, particularly international classmates, ranks as one of the most important aspects of the MBA program.”

Easier said than done if a program doesn’t have cross-cultural experts who can successfully integrate the diversity of thought within the classroom. It can take years to make the necessary changes as transformation occurs much more slowly than if starting from scratch. But business schools must find a way to short-cut the process; recruiting businesses want global mindsets now.

According to C. Perry Yeatman, Senior Vice President, Corporate Affairs, Kraft Foods is actively looking for talent that understands foreign markets and consumer behaviors, as well as those who can succeed in cross-cultural teams. “We cannot afford to be mindlessly global or hopelessly local. We must strike a balance – a concept we call “glocal” – in order to capitalize on the growth potential of key markets around the world.”

The same is true for engineering giant, DuPont, which reports more than 60 percent of its sales outside the United States.  “Because our industry is global, it’s not possible to have a U.S. career anymore,” says Diane Gulyas, President – DuPont Performance Polymers. “If you want to move ahead, you must be passionate about business beyond U.S. borders.”

But the vast majority of global business leaders I spoke with expressed increasing dissatisfaction with American students who don’t think beyond their own borders – who don’t have global mindset.

WPP, a leading global marketing communications company that services multinational clients in more than 100 countries, demands international perspective. “It would be almost impossible for someone to rise to a leadership position without international experience,” says Jon Steel, WPP Planning Director. “Students who are limited by their own national boundaries today are like the handloom weavers in an era of industrialization: they may still have a role to play, but it will be in an ever-shrinking one.”

Universities are in for a very challenging decade ahead as they attempt to re-engineer their MBA programs mid-flight while dealing with severe economic turbulence. Some schools will no doubt limit innovation and, out of fear, will maintain the status quo. Others will understand they have no choice and will learn to operate with fewer resources, tapping creative partnerships to drive the global mindset. It all depends on leadership.

Does your MBA program offer the exposure you need for a global  career?

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6 Comments on “MBA Programs Must Deliver Grads Ready for Global Careers or Lose Out to Competition

  1. I’ve heard from so many people about how much they like this piece. I received comments from people who think that MBA programs used to be critical for business success but not anymore. The cost is prohibitive for many. Some are simply picking up and joining the Peace Corp (Happy 5oth!) or moving abroad to teach English.

  2. What a great topic – Stacie seriously such a great article. I’m applying for the executive MBA program at Thunderbird School of Global Management. Thunderbird has such a good reputation for their programs and of course global studies. Even though I live in Arizona and have always known what a great school Thunderbird is I really wanted to go there after I had read about their involvement with Project Artemis, which educates Afghanistan women, and not to mention all the other great projects Thunderbird is a part of.

    • Sounds like a great choice for you, Katie. Thunderbird has an excellent reputation on the global MBA space and the Global Mindset Inventory research is both fascinating and important. If you’re interested in an international career, make sure you read my most recent blog about Women Moving Up By Moving Overseas; it dispels the myths of women abroad. Good luck and stay in touch!